Protesters threaten to kill hostages, spark uprisings

Saturday, July 13, 2002

SAN SALVADOR ATENCO, Mexico -- Farmers desperate to keep their land from being seized for a new Mexico City airport threatened Friday to kill about a dozen hostages and spark uprisings across the country.

With machetes strapped to their belts and wearing ski masks, about 1,000 farmers demanded police free fellow protesters detained during a confrontation Thursday.

They threatened to tie an estimated 12 hostages, including a deputy state prosecutor and police officers, to hijacked gasoline tanker trucks and set them on fire. The hostages were being held in an auditorium in this community on the outskirts of Mexico City.

"How far will we go?" farm leader David Pajaros asked residents, to which they shouted back: "To the death!"

Fearing a raid by police, the residents began arming themselves with gasoline bombs and setting off fireworks. State officials said they would not negotiate with the protesters.

The demonstrators rose up against authorities on Thursday, after more than a dozen people were injured and some 15 were arrested in an earlier anti-airport protest that saw demonstrators clash violently with police.

Three released

Friday night, authorities in the Mexico State capital of Toluca freed three of the 15 protesters and some some others might also be released. But Mexico State Gov. Arturo Montiel said officials would not negotiate the release of two who face more serious charges of leading the violence and stabbing a policeman.

Pajaros said the hostages were "a little bit scared, as you might understand, but they don't have a scratch on them."

Later, two of the hostages were marched in front of the crowd, where they told reporters they had been treated well so far, but feared they would be killed if police tried to rescue them.

Standing in front of the graffiti-strewn town square where two stolen Coca-Cola trucks were parked in front of a mural celebrating Mexican revolutionary heroes, Pajaros said he had spoken to radical farm groups in six other states.

"They are ready to support us with highway blockades, marches and protests, and to the extent that they are able, they are trying to make their way here," he said, adding that the protesters were following the example of Zapatista rebels in southern Chiapas state who led a 1994 uprising in the name of Indian rights.

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